A primary school has apologised for mistakenly showing a picture of the Prophet Muhammad in assembly, and ‘wishing him a happy birthday’.
Staff at Hunter’s Bar Junior School in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, have been left red-faced by last Friday’s incident, which sparked a revolt from one furious parent, who has called for Muslim parents to pull their children out of lessons.
Islam forbids all kinds of pictorial depiction of Muhammad or any other prophets as they are thought to encourage the worship of idols and they are seen as an insult to the religion.
Furious Atif Mohammed has rejected the school’s apology and demanded that the teacher, who he believes accidentally displayed the image, step down.
The 35-year-old branded the alleged error as ‘ludicrous’ and said he was baffled that an institution meant to educate children showed such ‘blatant ignorance’, insisting he would not let his children return to school as a result.
Mr Mohammed has since tried to rally other parents into protesting as tensions flare over the error, with police reportedly called to the school yesterday over fears of unrest.
Hunter’s Bar – rated outstanding by Ofsted in 2018, with inspectors noting that the proportion of pupils whose first language is not English is broadly average – said that the staff member was left ‘mortified’ by the ‘genuine mistake’.
The national average for children whose first language is not English is believed to be around one in five.
It is unclear precisely how the blunder occurred but it is known that the image mistakenly appeared during an assembly last Friday in a presentation celebrating the achievements of the children during the holy month of Ramadan.
Mr Mohammed claims two of his children who attend the school, aged 10 and eight, said a teacher led the assembly, which showcased various pupils’ birthdays, via Zoom.
He then claims the teacher suddenly wished the Prophet a happy birthday before showing a picture of him.
The Prophet’s birthday will be celebrated on October 18 this year.
Despite Mr Mohammed’s fury, however, other parents have jumped to the school’s defence, with religious leaders in the city also calling for calm.
Religious leaders are now calling for calm after the incident at Hunter’s Bar Junior School (pictured) in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, last week, for which staff have since apologised
Mohammed Ali, 48, a single father-of-two, has written to the school to show support following the incident
Some Muslim mothers and fathers said that while it was unacceptable to show such an image, it wasn’t done in bad faith and didn’t mock the prophet.
Mohammed Ali, 48, a single father-of-two said he was upset after seeing a police car drive past the school, reportedly to ‘check if there was unrest’.
But he said that he – and a group of 30 parents – have written to the school to show support.
His son, who he wished not to name, told him about the presentation which prompted Mr Ali to email the school.
He said he doesn’t want the teacher involved to be sacked and wants the community to use this to learn instead.
He said: ‘I called the school today to apologise for the reaction. I was angry when I first found out.
‘But I got a call from the teacher and I’ve never heard someone speak so apologetically and honestly.
‘I was sympathetic to what they were saying and I could tell it was an honest mistake.
‘As a parent I was most upset when I saw a police car drive past the school to check if there was unrest and if people were gathering.
‘There have been some angry parents and we were all upset at first.
‘We just wanted an explanation and the school has been very engaged and acknowledged what happened and how we were feeling.
‘Now we must learn from this and move forward. We don’t want the teacher sacked.’
Another unnamed Muslim parent said that most families were happy with the school and accepted the apology.
They said: ‘Most parents will not take their children out of school. This is a good school and they have made apologies.
‘We are happy with it and we will be working with them to use this as a tool to educate.’
Daniel Swain, 39, a father-of-two whose nine-year-old daughter attends the school said he would have pulled his children out if he thought it was a bad school.
The special needs teacher said: ‘The school has made a heartfelt apology and they have been in close contact with the mosques who believe we need to move on from this.
‘If I thought it was a bad school I would take them out without thinking twice.
‘But it is a good school. They’re brilliant and they made a mistake.
‘I think most parents are satisfied with how they have responded.’
His daughter, who he wished not to name, said that they were shown a presentation celebrating Islam and explaining the importance of Ramadan in the Muslim faith.
Meanwhile, Cathryn Dow, 44, a mother-of-three whose two daughters, aged 11 and eight go to the school, said she felt this incident was an opportunity for her children to learn about the Muslim faith.
The NHS worker said: ‘As a non-Muslim parent I don’t feel it’s my place to comment.
‘I think what happened will have obviously affected the Muslim community in the school.
‘For my daughter I think it is a good opportunity for her to understand why that isn’t acceptable and learn about sensitivity and other people’s faiths.
‘The school has apologised for the error and they’ve been speaking to Muslim groups and communities.’
Cathryn Dow, 44, a mother-of-three whose two daughters, aged 11 and eight go to the school, said she felt this incident was an opportunity for her children to learn about the Muslim faith
Daniel Swain, 39, a father-of-two whose nine-year-old daughter attends the school said he would have pulled his children out if he thought it was a bad school
Mr Mohammed, who has led the criticism, has sought the advice from the Madina Mosque situated just a mile away from the school, with talks of a protest brewing with a group of furious parents.
The carer said: ‘I believe everyone can make mistakes, but it is ludicrous that the deputy could first think it was the Prophet’s birthday and then show a picture of him.
‘I’m so disappointed by the school. They are meant to educate and they’ve shown such blatant ignorance.
‘There will be meetings in the mosque. We will be taking it further there as they work closely with people in education in Sheffield.
‘We are considering protesting. We will sit down with the mosque. It’s about what is right and what is wrong.’
Mr Mohammed said when he confronted head teacher Michael Watson on whether the member of staff would be sacked or suspended he was told to ‘wait five working days’.
The furious father-of-three has accused the school of attempting to ‘sweep this under the rug’ and claims the teacher has yet to apologise for her mistake.
He added: ‘The head teacher wouldn’t tell me how he was dealing with it. I was shocked.
‘I have kids going to that school and he won’t tell me how he’s dealing with the matter.
‘I was told I had to wait five working days before he could give me an update. It’s ridiculous.
‘I spoke to the head teacher yesterday and I wasn’t happy with his response.
‘He said he wanted to keep it within the community and keep it internal.
‘It wasn’t fair – because these things have been happening and we need to raise awareness to these issues and to deal with them better.
‘But they are trying to brush it under the carpet.’
The school released a statement on Wednesday apologising for the incident but is yet to respond to Mr Mohammed’s specific claims.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, Head Teacher Michael Watson (pictured) said: ‘We are aware and understand fully how offensive this is to our Muslim community and I offer my heartfelt apologies for the upset caused’
It comes just over a month after Batley Primary School saw hundreds of protesters camp outside the school after a teacher showed a cartoon mocking the prophet.
The Federation of Mosques have asked parents to accept the apology made by the junior school and ‘enlighten them with Islamic teachings’.
In a statement, they said: ‘The school has been in touch with parents and with community leaders and sincerely apologised and accepted the mistake they made during their Ramadan celebrations.
‘Today they have announced an independent inquiry as well. They are asking for help to rectify the mistake.
‘Therefore it is our duty to guide them to the right direction and enlighten them with Islamic teachings. We see no benefit in external elements getting involved in our city and raising issues.
‘Therefore we ask you to accept the apology and let them complete the inquiry.’
Postcode data show the school is in an affluent area which is less deprived than 82.5 per cent of other areas in the UK with 44 per cent of people in the highest AB social grades, well above the national average of 27 per cent.
It comes just over a month after Batley Primary School saw hundreds of protesters camp outside the school after a teacher showed a cartoon mocking the prophet
In a statement issued on Wednesday, Head Teacher Michael Watson said: ‘Last Friday during a celebration assembly marking the holy month of Ramadan a mistake was made that resulted in a picture of the Prophet Muhammad being shown.
‘We are aware and understand fully how offensive this is to our Muslim community and I offer my heartfelt apologies for the upset caused.
‘I have been meeting and working with the children, parents and staff affected alongside other members of the Muslim community to do what we can to put this right and will continue to do so.
‘We will conduct a formal investigation in accordance with the Sheffield Local Authority process into how and why the incident occurred and establish findings and actionable recommendations.
‘I want to reassure our Muslim community that we are doing all we can to find a fair and just way forward that rebuilds trust and faith in our school, so you can be confident that our pupils, families and staff understand, support and celebrate our diverse community that we are so proud of.
‘Once again we want to acknowledge the deep hurt and upset this has caused some of our community and offer our sincere and humble apologies.’
Paul Fisher, commenting on Facebook, said the situation ‘could get ugly’ but said everyone ‘just needs to move on from it’.
He said: ‘This is a situation that could get ugly, I’m hoping everyone can just calm down and understand it was a mistake, unless the investigation turns up anything.
‘Mistakes happen, apologies have been made, everyone just needs to move on from it.’
While Amy McMillan said this incident shows how people need to learn about other cultures.
She said: ‘I think it just highlights people need to be open to learning things about other cultures especially when you’re going into careers facing lots of different cultures, to have a better understanding of the people you are working with.’
Ramadan finishes next week.
The school and South Yorkshire Police have been approached for comment.